Yes, children, it’s true. Once upon a time there were these things called “letters” that people would write by hand onto pieces of paper. They’d then fold those pieces of paper, put them in an envelope, afix a “stamp”, put them in a large blue “mailbox”, and several days later the letter would be delivered to the person to whom the letter was addressed. The whole experience was kind of like texting in some sort of alternate hyper-slo-motion universe in which each second lasted an entire day. (Ask your grandparents.)
What’s more, the experience of sending and receiving letters was so common a feature of romantic relationships in 1961 that “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes went to #1 on the pop charts, the first Motown single ever to reach the top of Billboard’s Hot 100.
It’s an old formula in rock and roll: find a catchy hook, set it to a good beat, write some lyrics that namecheck a whole bunch of cities, and you might have a hit.
By 1975, after more than a decade of touring and recording without ever breaking through to national success, Bob Seger added his own twist to the old formula. He buried the Chuck Berry-inspired guitar riff in the middle of the song, then namechecked every region in the USA…but only to say he was tired of them all and was going to “Katmandu”.
Why yes, the live version of “Katmandu” did become the first in a string of 1970s and 80s hits for Seger; thank-you for asking. ;-)
You don’t often hear creationists claiming Joshua 10:13 is proof that the sun revolves around the earth. Which is kind of a pity, for two reasons: 1) Given the general acceptance of the Copernican understanding of the solar system, it would expose the intellectual flimsiness of creationism as “science” ever more thoroughly than post-Darwinian biology does; and 2) once upon a time, this biblical passage was the “go-to” argument for those* who opposed Copernicus’ theory, banned his books, and subjected Galileo to house arrest.
To read Dava Sobel’s A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized The Cosmos is to be thrown back into an age when astrology was as valid a scientific field as chemistry, and where virtually all useful scientific knowledge in Europe had been imported via the great Muslim empires from the works of Greek and Roman scientists who had been dead for over a millennium. That in itself is a sobering reminder that human “progress” moves in fits and starts, and that “civilization” (however defined) can’t be taken for granted.
Sobel is one of the finest science writers operating in the English language today, in no small part because of her obvious and infectious delight with the twin wonders of scientific insights and the foibles of human history. Both wonders come crashing together powerfully what we now call the Copernican Revolution
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) was a canon (a minor church official) in the diocese of Varmia, in what is now part of northeastern Poland. In addition to his lifelong interest in and work as an astronomer—no small task in the days when astronomical observation took place outdoors and in unheated castle towers—Copernicus was also a skilled physician, a minor economist and a practiced administrator of diocesan lands.
Unaware of the work of Aristarchus of Samos (who had propounded a heliocentric view of the universe in the 3rd century BCE), Copernicus had by 1510 written a Brief Sketch—a letter really—outlining his radical thesis that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the known universe. At that time, so far as Copernicus knew, nobody else in human history had ever reached the same conclusions he had about the universe: Read more…
A cautionary tale at the start of the workweek.
John Henry may have been an ex-slave working on the Columbus & Western Railroad near Leeds, Alabama in 1887, or (more likely) he was prisoner #497 in the Virginia state penitentiary leased out to work on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad digging either the Big Bend or the Lewis Tunnel near Talcott, Virginia in the early 1870s.
In either case, legend has it that when the first steam hammer was brought onto the worksite, John Henry outworked the newfangled machine in a side-by-side contest, driving more steel into the bedrock at the expense of his own life.
The moral of the story? Don’t work too hard. Seriously.
It’s Monday. What else is happening this week?
More than most Hosanna-filled hymns, Kirk Franklin’s “Hosanna” captures some sense of the excitement and enthusiasm that likely accompanied the events that Christians recall on Palm Sunday: a crowd of energetic young people, filled with excitement and enthusiasm as their leader enters the holy city of Jerusalem, poised on the brink (or so it seems to them) of overthrowing the oppressive powers of their day.
No one can compare to the things You do;
Wherever You go, I will follow You;
Hosanna forever we worship You.
I love Johnny Hodges’ buttery smooth alto sax at the start of Duke Ellington’s version “I’m Beginning To See The Light”. And no, that’s not Ella Fitzgerald singing; it’s a preternaturally composed and self-assured 17-year old Joya Sherrill.
Written by Hodges, Ellington, Harry James and lyricist Don George, “I’m Beginning To See The Light” was an instant standard. Not only did both the Ellington and James orchestras have top 10 hits with the song in 1945, so did Ella herself.
I never made love by lantern-shine;
I never saw rainbows in my wine;
But now that your lips are burning mine;
I’m beginning to see the light.